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    “Now, the booers have moved on to the blogosphere, bragging that their booing is a badge of honor.”---L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed, “Should Audiences Lay Off The Boos?” Apr. 25, 2009.

(May 1, 2009)

          Mark Swed has booed back. Yes, the L.A. Times music critic has aimed a boo-broadside against your heroic, lowly, not-so-boo-colic Internet columnist, in the waning medium of print, year of our Lord 2009.
          No, I am not named in his "Culture Monster" column of Apr. 25. I am obliquely referred to as a member of the “blogosphere,” which really should be the name of a Dr. Who villain, and I am lumped in with those 'net nuts who spout “bile in the name of free expression.” (It’s on my business card.) Gawd forbid that Mr. Swed, an old colleague of mine from the L.A. Herald-Examiner, “empower” me by printing my name. Never mind that I criticized him in this website, by name. Never mind that the Times, days earlier, linked the term, “Lonely Booer” to. . .The Rip Post.
          Not since the U.S. Postal Service named Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street” has there been such irrefutable proof of an identity!
          Mr. Swed, you are so coy.
          First, a couple of clarifications. I have not “moved on” to the “blogosophere,” as Swed said. I have been blogged down for the past twelve years, writing an on-line column (excuse me while I rub some Ben-Gay on my lower back.) Second, Swed writes as if my “Lonely Booer” column happened in a vacuum---as if I went out of my way to crow about how clever I was by vocally disapproving the Los Angeles Opera. Tch tch. Take responsibility for your actions, Mark. I wrote the column in response to your article in which you reported a "lonely booer."  As you know.
          But Mr. Swed, a man who has attended and written about thousands of concerts, objected to my booing so much that he wrote two pieces about it. Two! First, before he knew the booer was moi, came his review in which he went out of his way to note a solitary boo in the balcony. One guy, one naysayer amid thousands, and your keen-eared critic reported it!
          This man would have heard a dyspeptic father grumbling amid the 17,256 shrieking girls at the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl concert in 1964.
          I mean, music critics have sharp hearing, but bats might have missed me me in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that night (and by the way, there are real bats roosting there.) Another pal of mine seated in the orchestra section not far from Swed did not hear a single unkind howled vowel.
          But then, Swed’s ears are sort of, um, batty. This man made a career out of denouncing the acoustics of the Pavilion---never mind millions of uncomplaining patrons over 30 years---and by campaigning relentlessly for the construction of Disney Hall. In one of many nearly ejaculatory fits over the (superb) acoustics in Disney, he recently rhapsodized that the very ambience of the hall might one day be re-created for recordings and performances, much as period instrumentalists do for classics, cough. And once---this really happened---he euphorically declared that Disney Hall might. . ."change the world."
          Wow. So maybe Disney Hall is responsible for the current rise of the Taliban. Or the demise of GM. Huh.
          But back to booing. The second Swed broadside--- “the Internet is inundated with bile in the name of free expression.”---reveals his real agenda. In the guise of standing for civility, Swed is actually seeking to stifle free expression. The crux of the problem here is not booing, as he would have you believe. It is not even his contention that booing is evidence of “bile,” or his embarrassingly laughable assertion later in the article that it “stops discussion.” (What are we doing here?) The problem is tyranny. Swed’s tyranny. The tyranny of political correctness. Booing is. . .incorrect.
          What Swed is very deliberately doing is making sinister implications about simple disapproval. My booing, and my writing about it on-line, he implies, are part of Internet “bile in the name of free expression.” Get it? Thus he taints by implicitly linking me to the web ranters who make Rush Limbaugh look restrained. Neat trick. Discredit by association, rather than thoughtfully engage. (Who’s stopping discussion, Mark?) There is also an undercurrent of print journalism snobbery here, and the war between old and new media. Seeing his newspaper fall on hard times, so to speak, has evidently soured Swed on the Internet. Then this quote:
          “Art isn’t easy, but booing is. A mind-closing activity, it tends to be the expression of rigidity in the face of invention.”
          I see. So booing is mind-closing. . .rigid. . .stops discussion. Right. Only a closet authoritarian (extrapolate as far as you like) would boo, and seek to stop discussion. It’s a short hop from there to goose-stepping.
          Insidious, isn’t he? Booing is a slippery slope to. . .fascism!
          Not incidentally, booing is anything but "easy." It takes a bit of nerve to shout disapproval when you are surrounded by hands slapping together, whistles, and the big bravo competition. It is socially alienating. But never mind, we're used to social alienation at the Rip Post.


          Swed’s politically correct pose is part of sweeping newthink that came to inculcate mainstream media and popular culture, nowhere more so than the L.A. Times in the ‘90’s. This was, after all, the newspaper that published a style guide banning---yes, banning---such innocuous, hoary terms as “Dutch uncle,” (for fear of offending Dutch uncles?) I recall once writing a column for the Times during that period in which I mentioned that Japanese tourists were taking pictures of the bust of James Dean at the Griffith Observatory. I was told by a Times editor that she was taking out the word, “Japanese,” because “it’s a stereotype.” I told her that may be true, but they were in fact Japanese tourists, and I was just reporting detail. This didn’t cut it with the---let’s borrow Swed’s terms in describing booing---rigid, unthinking, mind-closing mentality of this PC-policewoman "editor." She became angry, sneering, “I suppose you recognize the sound of Japanese!” I said, well, yes, of course I did, domo arigato---I’ve grown up in L.A.. For this, the woman refused to edit any more of my articles, and withheld a paycheck from me for weeks. True story.
          From sitcoms to NPR, SNL to ACLU, political correctness has done more to curtail free speech in this country than it has to fulfill its alleged aim: to increase civility and decrease divisiveness. By setting up elaborate rules about what can and cannot be said for fear of offending this-or-that group, the architects of PC fostered an atmosphere even more divisive, with generations growing up with chips on their shoulders, waiting for little PC no-no landmines to crop up in conversation. God forbid that a white person ever say, for example, “you people,” in reference to an ethnic group, while whites are regularly stereotyped and mocked on film and television. And such tried-and-true attitudes as irony, sarcasm, being caustic or biting or satirical---were all lumped together as "mean-spirited." Ask the great David Letterman, who had the term practically stamped on his forehead.
          Swed's tone is in PC lock-step. Think I exaggerate? Think I am being paranoid? Imagine: one guy boos, and suddenly a powerful critic is pronouncing it an act just short of evil? Ahem.
          Something’s very wrong here, people.
          There is nothing wrong with booing, or voicing disapproval, of artists, performers, baseball players, movies, mimes. Nothing. Frankly, I think all professional sports figures should be booed every night, just for their shameless greed. Madonna should be booed on sight, anywhere, for being a no-talent, amoral, lowest-common-denominator exploitation beast. All “American Idol” winners should be booed, pretty much, for passing off soulless histrionics as singing, and to buffer their narcissism. Mayor “Little Anthony” Villaraigosa should be booed for, well, being a jerk. And just once I would like to hear someone boo Oprah when she agonizingly “confesses” to eating twenty chocolate cakes in the middle of the night. Yes, booing can be unwarranted, or misplaced, or cruel, but there is nothing---nothing---inherently wrong with it. It is a right in free society. For that matter, Marky Boy, bile---from the Internet or elsewhere---is a right in a free society.
          But bile is in the gut of the bilious, and trust me, there is more in Swed’s couched L.A. Times language than in my direct on-line statements. He is seriously angry, and using his bull(y) pulpit in an effort to malign dissent---in the guise of defending deference. Repeat: he is pushing to stop honest, thoughtful protest, portraying it as pigeyed rage. Consider that haughty assertion that the boo is “an expression of rigidity in the face of invention.” As if invention, merely because it is inventive, should be immune to disapproval! As if all booing is unthinking! By his standards, we should applaud “Piss Christ.” Remember that “work of art?” In which urine was poured into a tray containing a depiction of Jesus Christ? That was “invention,” too. And by Swed’s standards, those who booed last year’s Bayreuth “Meistersinger”---the one staged by Wagner’s 29-year-old great-granddaughter, featuring frontal nudity, Wagner dancing in his underwear, and a bunch of master singers with gigantic penises---well, they were “expressing rigidity.” (Not as much as those master singers.)
          According to the critic, apparently, it’s all good! (Some critic!)
          Swed’s crabbed and disingenuous argument blames everything from the Internet to the economy to “American Idol’s” thumbs-up/down rating system for contemporary booing. I’m surprised he left out Dick Cheney. He never once allowed that a boo---accepted, uncontroversial behavior in European concert halls---can be thoughtful, deliberate, and wholly warranted. How else can you impress upon an artist, or management, that you disapprove? A letter? Dismissed with a shrug and a shredder. But boos, well, they can make headlines. You're reading the proof here.
          Me, I was having fun. I was gleefully relishing the opportunity to publicly express my disdain for a $32 million dollar operatic production (the entire “Ring” cycle’s projected cost) that is pretentious, idiosyncratic, cluttered, gratuitous, banal, ridiculous, crude, occasionally just stupid. Where the characters look like assclowns from Timothy Leary’s rotting mind. What was I supposed to do, applaud politely? Or make the bold statement of. . .withholding my applause? We’ve been had, folks, by L.A. Opera, and Achim Freyer, and I’m sorry to say, the great Placido Domingo, who had the bad judgement to hire Freyer. It is almost criminal---I mean this---that this amount of money has been squandered on such fraudulence and tomfoolery. Think what this cash might have done to help south-central Los Angeles, for random example. Or to reinstate music programs in public schools! Or to stage lesser operas. Or to fight gangs. Or to support The Rip Post!
          Instead, it has been spent on indulging the crackpot ego of a mountebank, forcing confused L.A. audiences and "Ring" neophytes to consider the results as high art. A mountebank who, in the wake of the controversy generated by my lone boo, took the ultimate phoneybaloney artiste cop-out, saying in the Washington Post, that he wants a spectator “to be active; he has to yell, 'Boo,' 'Bravo,' get involved."
          Achim “Chicken” Freyer. Save us from such poseurs.
          I should, for the sake of credibility, note that I am not alone in my assessment of Freyer’s “Ring,” which returns with “Siegfried” and “Gotterdamerung” next year. Check out all the reader comments following Swed’s articles in the Times. They often make for better music criticism than the critic. Most ache over Achim, and lustily endorse booing. Ah, but to Swed, these people are more emissaries from the evil “blogosphere” spouting “bile in the name of free expression.” And check out other reviews of Freyer’s “Walkure” and “Rheingold.” Opera News’s Carl Byron, for example, writes that the choice of Freyer for the LAO “Ring” was “curious.”
          “Rather than shedding new light on Wagner’s allegory of greed and hubris,” Byron writes, “the former Brecht meisterschuler instead served up a disjointed hotchpotch of post-modern theatrical clichés that obscured the plot and characters (literally, in some cases, due to bleak lighting design) and also undermined the glorious performances of the vocalists and orchestra.”
          But that’s not the point. Even if the opera had been effectively staged and unanimously praised, I would still have a right to dislike aspects of it to the extent that I might choose to boo. Close minded? I went into this Ring with high hopes, despite photos from rehearsals that rated an orange alert from the The Department of Bullshit Security. It looked like a Monty Python spoof.
          But I never anticipated that something as Quixotic as my solitary crowing would have had the slightest impact on anything, let alone generate controversy. Swed’s latest ploy of casting me, and the boo, as being from the cyber-cesspool, well, that's a shocker. Has this society become so fawning that open disapproval merits such denunciation? Apparently so!
          But I am glad of it, and frankly, at this point, I want to heartily encourage people to boo their lungs out. No, not to boo unthinkingly, or witlessly, or cruelly. A performer’s voice cracks, or a pianist’s joints ache---this should only generate sympathy and polite applause. A conductor takes the Beethoven Eroica at breakneck speed, finishing this approximately 40-minute work in about 25 minutes (as I saw the odious Franz Welser-Most conduct it years ago at the Pavilion, theatrically swooning from aerobic exertion), hey, go ahead and let ‘er rip (pardon the expression.) The night that Esa-Pekka Salonen, who, yes, has indisputable great strengths, rendered Beethoven’s 9th as sloppy Muzak, well, that merited a chorus of hyenas. Lang Lang, who is all image and flash, and utterly lacking in depth and real artistry, should be booed right off every stage in the world. His parents raised him to be a performing monkey money-machine, his agent (or somebody) marketed him with the funny “Yo Yo Ma”-like name, and he rakes in millions with every head toss and piano-crushing fortissimo. Boooooooo!
          And any time a multi-millionaire Dodger dogs it at the Stadium, cut loose.
          We really need more booing, especially here in L.A.., the celebrity-licking land of the automatic standing ovation. Is there any discernment left anywhere? Let’s have some intelligent discord from the vocal cords. And how much intelligence, really, does it take to see that, for instance, Robert Wilson’s Kabuki-izing of LAO’s “Madame Butterfly” was affected, and totally at odds with the story, and character of the music? Or that stuffing the knights of “Parsifal” into futons and having them pose like trees with lumbago (Wilson again) was artsiness at its fartsiest?
          Yes, instead of all the preening, snobby buffoons braying in the obligatory Bravo Brigade, who work so hard to out-bravo one another (“I understand how great this is more than you do!”), L.A. needs a Bile Bunch.
          Booers (not boors) of the world, unite!
          Is such a thing possible? Maybe so. Last week, pianist Krystian Zimmerman denounced the USA from the stage (a sort of boo from the artist---nice reversal!), prompting a chorus of boos and obscenities from the perfumey Disney denizens. Heh! And consider this: a very restrained and proper friend of mine attended Salonen’s final concert, and found himself so affronted by the pretentious and bizarre Peter Sellars staging, and tampering with the text in Stravinksy’s “Oedipus,” that he dropped me an e-mail saying he took a cue from my column, and booed openly! Yes, there among the jewelry-rattling dowagers and chest-swelling bravo barons, he cupped his hands and yowled. Something he had never done before. Bravo! (Pardon the expression.) I want to hear more such stories. (Send 'em in! )
          And come next LAO season and Freyer's "Siegfried," and "Gotterdamerung," please don't leave me to be the Lone Booer. I've shouldered the burden long enough.
          Bragging that booing is a badge of honor?
          In the era of “it’s all good” critic Mark Swed, you goddamn boo-betcha.

Reviews and commentaries of L.A. Opera's controversial staging of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen."

Val-hell-a  (Feb. 25, 2009)
Rense reviews "Das Rheingold," the first in the series of four operas.
The Lonely Booer  (Apr. 8, 2009)
Rense reviews "Die Walkure," the second in the "Ring" cycle. Also, Rense reacts to L.A.Times music critic Mark Swed noting the presence of a "lonely booer" letting loose at the sight of director Achim Freyer. The "lonely booer" was. . .Rense.
A Boo For Swed (Apr. 8, 2009)
Rense comments in sidebar on Swed's assertion that listening to Wagner might make you "want to keep company with Hitler."
The Lonely Booer 2  (May 1, 2009)
L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed boos back at Rense, and Rense responds.
Southland Uber Alles  (July 29, 2009)
Rense comments on L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's motion to quash a citywide "Ring" Festival on the basis that Wagner was an anti-Semite.
Siggy Stardust (Oct. 5, 2009)
Rense Reviews L.A. Opera's "Siegfried."
Rense Rebuts L.A. Times's Mark Swed on "Siegfried" (Oct. 5, 2009)
Rense counters Swed's cheerleading for absurd Achim Freyer production.

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